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Green Jobs for All

People left out of the fossil fuel economy stand tall in the green economy
by

Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center at Pop!Tech 2007. Photo courtesy of the Pop!Tech Institute
Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights discusses the Green Collar Revolution at Pop!Tech 2007. Photo courtesy of the Pop!Tech Institute

Global problems demand world-class leadership from every sector. Fortunately, the right kind of leadership and organization is emerging to meet the challenges of climate change.

These new leaders are addressing questions too often overlooked in mainstream debate: Can we build solutions that involve and include everyone, especially those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change? How do we provide all people with equal protection from climate disasters, as well as equal access to environmental solutions and opportunities?

In November, at the Energy Action Coalition’s Power Shift conference, more than 6,000 bright-eyed students and youth from all over the country converged on Washington, D.C., to demand bold solutions for the climate crisis. Simultaneously, thousands more self-organized in small and large groups for the national “Step It Up” day of action to call for change.

And in December, the president signed a tepid Energy Bill. While the package left many environmental activists disappointed—and rightly so—there was at least one provision tucked into the Energy Bill that should give everyone something to cheer about: The Green Jobs Act of 2007.

For the first time in history, a U.S. law addresses both the climate crisis and the poverty crisis by investing in green-collar job training. The Green Jobs Act authorizes $125 million annually for greening the nation’s workforce, enough for training up to 30,000 people every year for jobs in emerging “green” sectors like the solar and wind industries, green building construction, biofuel production and more. Even more unprecedented, it allocates $25 million for “green pathways out of poverty,” providing targeted resources for low-income individuals who have the greatest need for training and career pathways in the clean energy economy.

Many grassroots and advocacy groups worked hard all year to achieve this victory, including the Apollo Alliance, the Workforce Alliance, the Center for American Progress, the Energy Action Coalition, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Green For All. The Act’s provisions were inspired by the local successes of grassroots organizations like Sustainable South Bronx, People’s Grocery, the Green Worker Cooperatives, and Solar Richmond.

It is especially important to note the growing number of “eco-equity” champions within Congress: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Representatives George Miller, John Tierney and Hilda Solis, and Senators Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders all helped push, pull, and carry this victory across the finish line.

To be sure, we still have a long way to go. These victories are just the beginning—small down-payments on the massive, necessary investments we must make to curb global warming.

But what you can see here is the start of a dream team of solutioneers—a coalition of some of the nation’s best environmentalists, labor union leaders, social justice activists, and business entrepreneurs, all working together and cultivating strong relationships with the right lawmakers.

We need solutions at every level, from people in every sector, if we are to save ourselves from the climate crisis. Indeed, efforts are doomed if they get stuck in elite subcultures instead of including broad, vibrantly diverse coalitions.

What’s exciting is that it appears the right elements are beginning to come together, with the potential to turn this climate crisis—one of the biggest challenges in human history—into a moment for deep, radical social change in this country.


Ian Kim wrote this article as part of Stop Global Warming Cold, the Spring 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Ian is the director of the Green Collar Jobs Campaign at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Photo of Ian Kim
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